Diesel spill happened inside ecological reserve

CanWest News Service

Friday, August 24, 2007

VANCOUVER ISLAND – The barge that spilled logging equipment and a fuel truck into the water near Robson Bight on Monday was inside the ecological reserve when the accident happened. A spokeswoman for B.C. Parks said earlier this week the barge was 200 metres outside the reserve, but the B.C. Environment Ministry said Thursday further investigation has shown the equipment was dropped in the protected area. “It is within the ecological reserve,” said ministry spokeswoman Kate Thompson.

“Apparently he was outside the reserve when he got into trouble with listing, but where the equipment was dumped was within the reserve.”

Five different global positioning system sources (GPS) were used to determine the location, but it was not yet known how far within the reserve the accident happened or whether the tug drifted in there after the barge started taking on water, Thompson said.

“It’s all under investigation,” she said.

Transport Canada is investigating the accident and the Transportation Safety Board is assessing the evidence and will probably decide next week whether to conduct a full investigation.

The Robson Bight ecological reserve is protected provincially, but the province does not have jurisdiction over the water.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


Oil spill threatens orca sanctuary on B.C. coast

CanWest News Service

Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Cleanup crews headed to the environmentally sensitive Robson Bight Monday night after a barge dropped its load, spilling diesel fuel into an area frequented by a pod of about 200 killer whales.

The diesel fuel slick, estimated to have spread two to eight kilometres, will likely affect the resident orcas, who use the bight to feed and rub their bellies, said Environment Ministry spokeswoman Kate Thompson.

“There couldn’t have been a worse place for this to happen. It’s the only protected rubbing beach on the coast of B.C.,” said Jennifer Lash of the Living Oceans Society.

View Larger Image
A barge tipped its load of logging equipment into the Robson Bight area on Monday. Orcas frequent the waters there, and environmentalists fear they may be harmed.

CanWest News Service

Salmon, herring and sardines, as well as birds such as loons, cormorants and ducks, could also be affected by the accident, which occurred off the northeastern side of Vancouver Island, in Johnstone Strait.

Coast guard spokesman Dan Bate said the barge was being towed by a 38-foot tug, the Kathy L, owned by Gowlland Towing of Campbell River, when it listed and then flipped at 11:30 a.m. Monday.

Paul Spong, director of OrcaLab on nearby Hanson Island, said the noise through hydrophones when the equipment hit the bottom was deafening. “There were orcas right next to the barge when it tipped, but they headed east pretty soon after and haven’t returned.”

Diesel fuel dissipates and evaporates under the sun, meaning it is not the same scenario as the Exxon Valdez crude oil spill, which killed 22 killer whales. “But we’re going to have to keep our fingers crossed the whales don’t encounter it,” said Spong.

The barge load, which included logging equipment, a pickup truck, a bulldozer, an ambulance, a bus and a fuel tanker truck with a capacity of about 10,000 litres of diesel, sank to the ocean floor.

The barge and equipment belongs to Ted LeRoy Trucking Ltd. of Chemainus, a contractor for TimberWest Forest Corp.

Burrard Clean has been contracted to mop up the spill.

“It’s a bad way to start the week off,” Mr. LeRoy said. “We’ve never had anything like this in about 30 years.”

Mr. Thompson said cleanup crews headed out Monday night to assess the impact of the slick, which occurred about 800 metres from the ecological reserve at Robson Bight.

“Everybody’s mobilized and on their way,” Mr. Thompson said. “We’re talking about an environmentally sensitive area, and something that could be spread out for kilometres.”

A group of kayakers helped collect some of the smaller debris that was littering the strait on Monday.

“It’s quite a slick,” said Jim Borrowman of Stubbs Island Whale Watching at Telegraph Cove. “It goes for several miles; there were patches all the way up the strait.”

A regional environmental emergency team involving the coast guard, Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will coordinate the cleanup.

Ms. Lash, of Living Oceans, said no efforts were made at containment. “It’s an indication of how poorly prepared people are on this coast to respond to an oil spill,” she said.

“We can’t afford to have oil going back and forth in Johnstone Strait. Even if it doesn’t directly affect the whales, it’s affecting the ecosystem.”

Robson Bight consists of 467 hectares of upland and 1,248 hectares of foreshore, was established to provide a sanctuary for killer whales.

~ by fredfelleman on August 25, 2007.

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